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date: 25 June 2017

Beliefs and Foreign Policy Decision-Making

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

How do the beliefs of leaders affect foreign policy decision-making processes and outcomes? This question has been central to the study of Foreign Policy Decision-Making (FPDM), yet it receives scant attention in the broader international relations literature. Examining how scholars have studied the effect that beliefs have on foreign policy decisions and outcomes is a worthwhile pursuit. Doing so reveals how researchers think about key beliefs while trying to explain foreign policy. While there are key parallels with other academic disciplines, there are also key controversies and debates in this area. Despite these debates, there is one key accepted assumption: leaders matter. Individual leaders, their unique beliefs, and their unique cognitive limitations affect both the quality of the decision-making process and the direction of the foreign policy outcomes. The beliefs and images leaders hold act as powerful frames and limitations to incoming information. Despite the rich history of the field, scholars who study beliefs still have much more work to do to expand the generalizability of the rich set of qualitative findings in the literature. Scholars need more data, from more sources, for more leaders, to generate larger and more comprehensive data sets. There is a great opportunity to expand this field of research and paint a clearer picture of the decision-making process.